Adapt to the changing weather
  |  First Published: July 2017

Unexpected rain events during May really made an impact on the temperature and things have cooled down considerably since we received 200mm mid-month. The temperature was actually climbing again recently, and during a trip south of town we found 26.9°C, in May! While plenty of people believe this is the time to pack away the barra gear, I think all that’s really needed is a change of tactics to keep the action happening.

Species like barra don’t just disappear. They still have to feed, but they do have a preference for smaller food items instead of those gob-stopping mega mullet, tarpon, and so on. While the theory that a big lure or bait means a big fish doesn’t ring true during the temperature decline, it’s still possible to catch some great fish at a time when it’s deemed too hard by some anglers.

The accepted best live bait is reasonably-sized prawns. Obviously little lures require light line to work properly, and lighter rods to cast and work them properly, so a downgrade from traditional barra grade tackle is part of the winter tactics. Some 8-10lb braid and 20-30lb leader is about right. It’ll shock you how many respectable fish will eat the small lures, if you’re new to the tactic.

Any barra fisher will tell you that the surface bite from a barra is the most exciting thing you’re likely to encounter when casting lures around creeks, rivers and headlands. Everyone has their favourite presentations, but I’m a big fan of the poppers and fizzers. Short, sharp downward jabs of the rod tip with 2-3 second pauses between will usually be all that’s needed to get a bite form a barra that has even the slightest inclination to take food from the surface.

A fresh outlook

Up in the fresh things are going very well. Quiet approaches with long casts have been getting great results. Hopefully the cooler weather will slow the weed growth down a bit, which will make it easier to use much beloved hardbodies for the big girls. The strike rate has been quite good with one session from the shoreline producing barra at 102, 104 and 117cm, plus some pups around the 56-70cm range. Plenty of people have broken that magic metre mark in the past few weeks.

It’s often said that a metre from the fresh doesn’t count, but I’m not sure if I agree. If you’re using 40-50lb braid and 50-80lb leaders in the salt, big girls don’t take too long to land either. In the fresh around snags and weedless spots, traditional barra gear of around 20-30lb will see you busted off plenty of times.

Hardbodies have been on the smaller side for these fish. During one land-based session I got smoked by an unstoppable beast on a 120 Halco Laser Pro with upsized hooks to make it suspend. The fight was brief and brutal, with 60lb leader sheered at the gill plate.

Flats fishing

Recently the flathead are really putting in an effort. Double hook-ups on some flats are common. They aren’t the stonking big crocodile-looking specimens from the more southern systems, but they are a viable target for the light line enthusiast.

The most common size is 45-60cm. They take lures without hesitation, not to mention a well-presented live bait. In the same areas as the flatties, big whiting are showing up and are being taken on small poppers in the translucent colours and on baits like peeled prawns and worms.

Flooding flats in shallow water are a good place to start the search. If it’s a little bit dirty, the bait will work best, and if it’s clear, get ready for a good session on lures. I won’t go into details of retrieves and so on as there have been so many informative articles written about this.

Bottom bay species are still active and the grunter and golden snapper have made up some reasonable catches recently. The biggest I’ve seen a pic of so far was around the low 90s, and that’s a horse in anyone’s book. We have been chasing them in the shallower stuff with lighter gear and plastics with reasonable success.

Offshore and deeper

Mackerel have shown up in good numbers. Casting small slugs and slices from an inconspicuous distance, say a minimum of around 20m, when the water’s clear will get your rod bent. The sequence is simple: cast your lure just up current from the school, lift it with a couple of brisk upward sweeps of the rod tip and keep the line tight during the descent for a good start. If that hasn’t got a bite, hold the rod tip down towards the surface and crank back flat knacker. Have at least a dozen casts at your location before moving on.

A short length of 20-30lb wire is often needed to stop the snip-offs. If the sharks aren’t too bad, light line will be more successful. Our preferred outfit for the doggy and school mackerel is a light spin rod and reel, spooled with about 8lb braid, but as I mentioned, the sharks have been insane, so heavier handed tactics may be needed to beat them. If you lose a few fish to bities, just move on – it won’t get any better during that session.

The Spanish are showing up pretty consistently now and are liking lures and smaller baits of gar more than the traditional wolfy presentation. We noticed during a late night barra session that there were heaps of big, juicy gar getting around, so this could have something to do with the smaller offerings getting smashed. Wog heads and skipping gar have been the rigging methods for most anglers with reasonable results. This action will likely increase this month.

It has become blindingly obvious lately that the sharks on the better known spots are educated and could be classified now as permanent residents. This could be due to the frequent association of outboard sounds to an impending easy feed. This problem likely won’t get any better for anglers frequenting a particular location.

The latest survey conducted in a green zone estimates shark numbers to be low. Perhaps they could conduct that same survey at the nearest well-known accessible fishing location to a green zone, as these spots have fish that are much easier for sharks to catch when they’ve been hooked.

It’s this consistent taxing that has encouraged offshore anglers to look for spots that are lesser known and therefore lack the educated taxman numbers. I spoke to a guy the other day who zig-zagged his way home from a recent trip looking for some new territory and found a small reef the size of a small residential house block that was worthy of investigation on his next trip.

When he next ventured out in that direction he thought he’d have a quick look to see what was about and he was astounded at what happened. Every drop was a big specimen of either trout or nannies and he caught his bag limit in quick time and left them biting. The best bit was none got eaten!

If I were the owner of a bigger boat then I have to say that this would be my approach too. I’d be scanning every bloody inch of that ocean floor to find these small fish-holding locations. Just keep an eye out for the spot stealers and leave your spot to protect your hard-earned marks, if you see a conspicuous boat heading your way.

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